Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

Blissful bairn bath

August 16th, 2015

adabatheAt four weeks, granddaughter Ada loved her first bath. That’s remarkable in at last one way.

Her father was terrified. Other than brief-lived jaundice (into the window in the woven carrier per the pediatrician’s orders!), his early months were happy and curious. In fact, the recorded moment of birth in NY is when the crew (I in this case) cut the umbilical cord. Even before that, neonate Aaron looked about with insight and extrospection.

However, laving was different. Sponge bath, in the baby tub or the roomy stainless sink…the method and locale were not relevant. My first-born wanted no part of water and bathing.

Granted, this peculiarity astonished me by background. I have always been a water guy. I still swim in the Y pool many times each week. I was a water safety instructor and summer swim-team coach, and lifeguard and team swimmer in high-school and college. I shower and bathe one, two or three times a day. I love water and never feel more graceful, happy and meditative.

How could this tragedy occur with my son?

I had an aide though. I worked in a smallish publishing group, maybe 30 folk, the count of an elementary classroom. One was a Dutch fellow also in his late 20s or early 30s. I’m not sure his nationality played into it, although the sophistication and open-mindedness may have been factors.

I asked around in the group about whether anyone had children who were or had been afraid of bathing. He was quick to teach.

My wife was home mom during this period, only too happy to get relief when I returned from mid-town Manhattan after my commute/work/commute. Aaron was our first, he was very intense, nursed incessantly, and was still always looking, looking, looking. When I entered the West Village apartment, she’d greet me by thrusting our son into my chest, saying, “Here!”

It makes perfect sense to me that I could connect with him by bathing him while I chatted and grinned and he babbled. Except, he screamed and fought.

My Dutch colleague played Obviousman very well. He had been there and knew the answer was, “Get in the tub with him.”

Huh?

I explained that I showered and shaved in the morning before heading to American Management Association. He fairly snorted and said that this was about my son and not about me. It wasn’t going to hurt me to get wet again and that if my son was frightened, being in the tub with his father was all he would need.

Righto.

I’d run water into the adult tub, undress us both, and climb in with him. He’d cling to me and sometimes lie back on my hands as I washed his hair. We’d chat and laugh. We’d reconnect after my day away. Perhaps as important, my wife and his mother has time to herself after 10 or so hours of intensity.

It’s nice that Ada likes her bath. Yet, I have to wonder what my son and daughter-in-law might be missing.

Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

 

The Faces We’re Born With

April 6th, 2015

Decades ago, I was stunned to be fired from one of my first jobs. I was highly competent and well liked.More on that in a few paragraphs.

I recalled that plunge today as I read a column on looks in Mad Men by Robin Abrahams, the Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct columnist. She wrote of how lookism affected both men and women in the TV series, along with such insights as when it is beneficial to be a babyfaced man (specifically a Black CEO).

I grew up in a home run by a mother who was a manager. She was not a lookist, in fact, did not stereotype people. You produced and behaved or she’d try to make those things happen. Man or woman, old or young, pretty or plug ugly, none of those were relevant to her.

Thus, on jobs where I was the boss, I treated people as my mother taught me As a result, they tended to perform for me. They knew being unctuous or attractive meant little.Doing your job well and getting along with coworkers did. So there.

So just after the Mad Men era, in an office overlooking the Chrysler Building gargoyles, I was perking along as writer/editor at a weekly magazine of a professional society. The biggest part of the job was covering the weekly luncheon meeting of its influential members. The speaker was a powerful and often well-known person who often spoke of big ideas.

It was kind of trivial but still fun. Out of J-school and with considerable newspaper experience, I was in my element. I photographed the speaker and covered the remarks. Of course, I had to be flawless and present the speech coverage to reveal the high points in a compelling narrative. Hell, though, that’s what I’d done for many years in high school. college and  and on newspaper staffs.

Alas, vanity and ego came visiting the office, not mine though. The founder and long-term executive director of the society was old and retired. His middle-aged junior promptly jettisoned me.

I was stunned. Several coworkers were not. Moreover, the printer of the weekly magazine I filled took me to lunch for a talk right after the news.

The printer was a bright, highly competent, very flexible and particularly nice fellow I had a lot of business with on the job. Turns out he was also black Irish (thick and dark hair, ruddy skin) which came into play as he spoke. He said he had figured that would happen when the old man stepped down.

It was obvious to the printer and several staff members that I threatened the new boss and he was biding his time to dump me. Word is the ascendant chief told people I was jockeying for the top job.Moreover, the traits I figured ensured my longevity foretold my demise. Competence and likeability are too much for the mediocre to tolerate.

I had no interest whatever in taking over a professional society and making insincere kissy-face to0 big shots. I wanted to report on speeches and take good pix.

Once number two got it in his head that I was a snake waiting to slay him, I was dead as soon as possible.

The printer was very positive though. He said I was well rid of the job and would find something better quickly. He was right on both counts. In addition, he offered a truism likely from his own experience that has stuck with me — “It’s never going to hurt you to be a blond WASP.”

That’s a very dated, remarkably lookist comment, but spot on.

 

Al Goldstein dies with a whimper

December 28th, 2013

So, Big Al is dead. I was not a close friend of Al Goldstein, but I knew him for several years.

I liked  him.

[Somewhere around here, I have a pad of Screw/Milky Way Productions note paper. When I run across it, I’ll scan a page and add it here. The border has a daisy chain of cartoon folk doing various sex acts with and to each other. That is a parody of the Mad Magazine borders, which in turn is a parody of the classic Greek art of satyrs and such.]

I feel I am plainspoken enough that my three sons know or have at least been exposed to my life. My mother didn’t talk about herself, in contrast, and I recall after her memorial service, in which I held forth for 90 minutes or so that her many friends and even my sister and niece approached me to say, “I never knew all that about her.” Yet, even with my perceived openness, when Al’s obit appeared recently (do read the NYT version linked above), middle son was surprised when I said I knew Al and that I had worked for him.

It was slightly more sordid and deeper than having met the pron maestro. I did some free-lance writing and photography for the likes of his not-too-subtly named tabloids, Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. I was a bit player there on payroll. I covered some nudie plays, some gay nightclub strip shows, and some Continental Baths shows like with Bette Midler.

Instead, deepening the relationship, a woman I lived with, Maggie to Al, worked as his assistant. So I would stop by to chat with her or him or both. I’d see porn stars and hear about Linda Lovelace in-depth (pun intended) interviews and such. I’d see his multitudinous file cabinets, filled with porn pix, labeled by the players (3-men/1-woman and so forth), which he said they bought from poor photogs by the pound to illustrate plotless stories and articles. I chatted up absurdly named managing editor Heidi Handman, who became a successful pediatrician and author, dying four years ago. In light of her contextually risible name, Al said several times he’d like me to join the staff so he could have someone with the last name of Ball on the masthead.

In the late 60s, when Al started his tabs, his version of porn was shocking and innovative. It’s so-so today.

I remember Al more as a charming lunch and dinner companion. Sure he loved food and drink (sometimes ballooning in weight to prove that, but that was bolstered by ex-wives suing him and other stresses. He knew a lot and had highly developed social skills. He was not like Larry Flynt, whom I got to know casually when I edited a grocery mag that covered dirty mags, a big seller in convenience stores. Flynt was and likely still is scatological and vulgar, ever speaking of twin crappers in his house, crap itself and the delights of tasting women’s urine. Al, in contrast was fun and funny, as long as you accepted that over the course of an evening he’d rant a bit about a bad parent or wife or lawsuit.

A bond between us was mechanical and electronic gear, as well as the food we both enjoyed eating and preparing. More than vulvae, gadgets fascinate him. For a few years, he wrote and published his true love, the Gadget newsletter. He adored geek gear and had many examples in his office and home. I thought of him many times when I edited the Smart Machines newsletter, with publisher Ted Blank. That was a real link.

Al was out there. To the public, that meant showing public hair when it was a scandal, penises and labia when they were shocking, and being several decades ahead of even the boring mainstream men’s books like Playboy and Penthouse. Likewise, he was out there personally. He never shied from admitting he was often fat, that he had fucked up one marriage after another, that he squandered fortunes through arrogance and inattention.

In other words, he was deliciously human.

I liked the man. I am sure he made positive contributions to free speech and personal liberties, but that’s not what he was really about.

 

 

Young, youngish, still too young corpses

September 5th, 2013

Noticing the box with half my mother’s ashes, I thought again of three good folk I knew who died unnaturally young — or maybe naturally if you consider invidious, insidious disease to be our shared fate. Certainly going before 60 doesn’t seem right to me.

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She was outside the too-young range. She died 9 years ago.

nycchumsAt 33, Paula Delancey went first. We went to high school together, dated, and in our early 20s ended up becoming really close friends. She went to the CIA (as in chef’s school up the Hudson) and spent weekends in my West Village apartment. Hyde Park NY was not theater central nor where her friends lived and played.

“Her ambition is to be happy,” was beside her HS-yearbook pic.She was terrifically bright and well read. I couldn’t believe what a vapid, inane thing to write. Now of course, the older I get, the wiser that aim is.

She was a lot of fun, constantly laughing and joking, even ridiculing her own blunders and shortcomings.She looked forward to being a fabulous old lady.

The pic is, right to left, Paula, Isabel Wolfe (now Frischman) and I in Isabel’s NYC apartment.

She never got there. After being the first woman ever to graduate at the head of her class at the CIA, she worked in several NYC restaurants and then was head chef at a couple of others. She ended up making great money, taking her mother on an extended luxury trip to Paris and heading toward those two goals of being a grande dame and staying happy. Then she got cancer of the spine.

Apparently there’s little to do. She gave NYU Medical its best shot at chemo, radiation and surgery. She faded, continuing to sicken, go bald and suffer. She died in 1981. That was my first eulogy, delivered to a chapel in Brick Township NJ filled with a few of her friends and many of her aged parents’.

neil

At 40 , Neil Passariello was also far too young and far too vital to have died. This month he will have been dead 23 years.

He was the long-term partner of my friend from college, Jasper Lawson. He died of effects related to AIDS. He was finishing his doctorate in clinical psychology (Jasper already that one).  There is a regular colloquium in his honor.

I like to think I gave him a last bit of earthly pleasure. When he was in the bed where he died, I bought a bouquet of coriander I picked from my garden. He loved the herb and would say every meal needed a dish with cilantro and of course a pasta course. He no longer opened his eyes when we visited that last time, but he definitely smiled as I held the coriander close to him.

Surely all of his family and friends remember him as funny, dramatic, loud and passionate. An Italian-American, he referred to his heritage as he spoke intensely of food, of sex, of music. He could and did literally break out into song, generally an aria from an Italian opera.

His death did not seem right or timely or fair. He made others’ lives better and more fun, both personally and professionally.

Jasper and I have laughed more than once about how Neil made Jasper seem so WASPy, mannered and tame in contrast.

Jasper’s husband, Jay Landers, is remarkably patient when friends accidentally refer to him as Neil. On occasion, I make that faux pas. Supposedly that is expected with first “spouses,” although Neil died before same-sex marriage was legal. His intensity brings him to mind, quite understandably.

rehfieldAt 57.  John Rehfield still fits in the too-young category. He was remarkable in many ways. I can say for certain he was one of my two favorite managers (I married the other one).

John was a trade-magazine anomaly in being a civil engineer who was a good, no, a superb writer. He won every possible award in construction and trade journalism. He hired me to write for Construction Equipment knowing my only building experience was on carpentry crews during college summers. The day he hired me he said he could teach me anything I needed to know about construction but he couldn’t teach his engineers how to write.

He was very tall and light bulb shaped (his head at the screw end) and even laughed at his odd physique. He was an incessant punster. He came to work at dawn and completed his own before the rest of us arrived. He spent his day dealing with company matters and forever being there to help his writers, editors and art director. Oh, and he always wore a Mickey Mouse watch; he explained that he bought his children Disney stock when they were born, largely for the cartoon characters around the border of the certificates. They became surprisingly wealthy as the stock split repeatedly. He figured the watch was the least loyalty he could show.

He did wonderful motivational deeds too. Every so often and not related to the scheduled reviews, he’d come around to mention he was giving me a raise, just because I was doing a good job and writing good articles. I overheard him yelling at the publisher, telling him to keep his sales reps away from me; I ran the national directory of equipment and they all wanted favors for their customers.

Alas, Conover-Mast, across from the Daily News building in the literally heart of Manhattan, fell prey to Boston-based Cahners. The new parent sent the kids to Boston or Chicago. Moving to lower-tier towns was too much for those of us young and single. Most of us didn’t go.

Within 7 years, John died of cancer. Even though my sister and her kids were in Chicago, I would have felt stranded had I followed him there. I prefer to recall him as healthy and funny.

In fact, I remember each of these three for their virtue and joy they took in life.

Banks of the Muddy Dan

June 2nd, 2013

Back to key childhood town today via the NYT opinion piece, I recalled Danville, VA. Tess Taylor, likely the age of my eldest son, wrote on how early Civil Rights protests hit even her white, establishment granddad.

In the very segregated setting only three miles above North Carolina, I went to elementary and junior high. Separate black/white schools were the norm. Even Greyhound was the white bus line versus the black Trailways. Some accommodations were not quite blended. I think of the Rialto movie theater, which kind of accommodated black folk, so long as they sat in the balcony. In fact, when I was eight, a friend thought he was tricking me by sending me upstairs with my bag of popcorn. When I noticed that the white people were downstairs and I was among rows of exclusively black people, I wasn’t bothered and watched the double feature (always at least a double and the Rialto had the Westerns and other action flicks). Later I wondered whether anyone in the balcony resented a white kid in their seats. If so, they didn’t let me know. After the movies, my classmate met me and looked chagrined. I think maybe he tasted his own racism and found his joke unfunny.

Taylor’s piece is on her grandfather’s modestly foolish upbraiding of a racist judge for coming heavy on black protesters for integration. It gives nice background on Danville as well as the perceived praise of her relative.

I’ve written on Danville here before. I lived there longer than anywhere until I moved to Manhattan after college and those were formative years.

Fortunately, my mother was not a racist and we were not infected by the malevolent disorder. She ran the Red Cross chapter, where black folk as well as white volunteered and received such services as blood, transportation, first-aid and home nursing training and such. Black folk were as welcome in our lives as whites. There were a few Jews, including the physician who rented to us, although I don’t recall knowing or even seeing Asians. It was a two-colored world.

Danvillelibrary

We moved to a far more rural Chester — middle of the same state, but not at all a city, before going to Plainfield, NJ for high school. PHS was half black. Plus my classes were a quarter to half Jewish students. I took the bus to Manhattan every chance I got. I experienced intense culture shock, almost entirely in a good way. I did hear and see Yankee de facto segregation and overt racism though, as I did and do during my decades in Boston. The first time I heard anyone openly using the N word was in my first few days in New Jersey. The separation of races in old Danville seems to have minimized open disdain, plus likely the veneer of civility in the South.

Pic note: The building was my public library and had been the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. Danville came with extra baggage.

On a far more prosaic level, I can draw light lines to other cultural transitions. I think of common tools, such as computers. I went from a manual typewriter to an electric one, on to when being a computer user meant bringing your task, like data analysis to a programmer who typed out punchcards and handed them to you to pile into a huge computer for calculation, I went on to batch processing in a shared environment and to paper tape mainframes before dedicated (and very expensive) word processors before workstations and then personal computers.

The improvements in integration and race relations have not been as linear or incessant. Yet integration advances, even in places like Boston, although there’s still a lot of happen. To return to the weak tool analogy, much as occurred in my lifetime and my towns. I think of my wife’s late grandmother, who grew up from the era before electricity and automobiles. Like Mable Thames, I have seen and benefited from much. Keep it coming.

 

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Waiting for God-Snow

February 8th, 2013

Extrapolating to the looming blizzard, I think power outages past.

In our former house of 21 years in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, we had numerous localized blackouts. Some were a few hours, but an annoying and inconvenient number were days, up to five.

In the new place of four years, we fare much better.  It appears that the newer above-ground equipment, as well as the suplier — NStar rather than National Grid or Keyspan — have much to do with that.

Over in JP, transformers regularly got shorts, lightning strikes or taken down in tree falls. Those are very rare up here, long timers tell us.

cablesThe oddment is Boston’s blind acceptance of the ugliness, inefficiencies and even dangers of the power and comm cables everywhere overhead. Like in so many cities, we simply don’t see them. They are like the dreadful snapshots folk take and only notice later that there are poles appearing to grow out of someone’s head or the garbage truck as a background.

Facts are that keeping these cables up high has benefited the utilities and other providers financially…at stupid penalties for all of us. Boston keeps a third-world infrastructure by inertia.

In contrast, places like Manhattan recognized the perils of this and protected most underground. We saw the benefits when superstorm Sandy was so destructive. Repair and rejuicing the thin, long island was much quicker and cheaper than where the transformers and wires were on poles.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it costs to put the cables under the street, but some cable TV/net/phone providers got it, sucked up the cost and have vastly higher uptime than the creaky alter kaker companies. If it costs, the provider should pay most or all of it, getting an ROI from longer maintenance and install outlays going forward. They can probably scam cities and states into letting them bump their rates, just slightly, to recoup some of that. Boo, but OK.

Sorry if this alters your perception. No, I’m not. People here from the pols to us ordinary folk should notice how hideous the poles, cables, boxes and cables covering our streets are.

Bury ’em!